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It started in Féile and now it’s in Opera House

SMILES: Marie Jones at home in the Grand Opera House SMILES: Marie Jones at home in the Grand Opera House
By Ciara Quinn

CELEBRATED playwright and actress Marie Jones sits down with this reporter in a quiet enclave of the Grand Opera House in what has already been a busy year for her work.
The curtain is set to come up on one of her most revered pieces, Stones in His Pockets, on April 15, which made its debut back in 1996 as part of the annual Féile an Phobail. Since then the production has toured around the world to much critical acclaim and will be at the city centre theatre house for one week only. For those not familiar with the cautionary tale, the play takes place in a small rural village in Ireland which is subsequently turned upside down when a major Hollywood film studio descends to make a historical blockbuster on location, The story is told through the eyes of Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn, employed as extras along with half the town. As cultures clash, it becomes clear the Tinseltown’s romanticised dream of Ireland and whimsy is a long, long way from reality.
“The play details the effect a big Hollywood blockbuster has on this small rural town,” explains Marie. “There is a lot of comedy in it, the two actors play everyone from a Hollywood starlet, director, to themselves, but there is also miscommunication, the idea of stereotypes and tragedy.
“The characters of Charlie and Jake realise that they really are ‘extras’ in life. The first act concludes with a local teenager taking his own life by putting ‘Stones in His Pockets’ after an encounter with the star of the movie.
“Jake and Charlie then decide to take control of their own destiny and set about making their own film about this young man.”
Marie spoke of how the play transferred to the Lyric Theatre in the late 1990s with its simplistic backdrop of a map of Ireland and a row of shoes, various designs and sizes, as she worked to make it how she intended.
“The initial script wasn’t right, it needed more work on it. I remember my husband Ian saying ‘get out that play and write it the way you want it to be’. We then took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, West End and Broadway.”
Stones in His Pockets will be Marie’s third piece of work to date to be housed in the Grand Opera House since September last year with Fly Me To The Moon and Archy in Manhattan having garnered rave reviews.
When the curtain comes down on Stones, Marie along with fellow playwright Martin Lynch, will debut their Miami Showband Story, which will have its world premiere at the Opera House in August as well as A Night in November revival at the Lyric. Marie says that she and Martin were clear in their writing in that they didn’t want to create a story “about a massacre, that’s not what we set out to do, but we will not ignore it”.
“The showband, especially the Miami and The Dixies were a phenomenon. The Miami were huge, they were stars. There were thousands and thousands of people dancing every night of the week in towns from the mid 1960’s. We would all be dancing in halls and parish halls. Once the showbands came people started to move out of their communities and go into the city centre, get buses down to Bangor. At the time no big stars were coming over here, the showbands, the Miami were as good as the real thing.”
Marie continued: “It was 1967, ’68, ’69 when all the intermarriage happened, everyone was meeting at dances. We always have a laugh me and Martin as one of my first boyfriends came from Turf Lodge, where Martin was from. At the time I didn’t know Turf Lodge existed and there was me and my chum getting two buses away to Turf Lodge to see two fellas we had met at the dance. What was really funny was that Martin was coming from the dance to take his girl back to the Braniel.
“When the massacre happened people stopped going out, hotels took over and started opening up their ballrooms, alcohol was being served. They said that during the showbands all we were drinking was minerals and having packets of crisps. The money from the minerals and coats paid for the bands. It really was an Irish phenomenon.”
Stones in His Pockets will be performed at the Grand Opera House from Monday April 15 until Saturday April 20. For tickets information visit www.goh.co.uk

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